A falling Star


County foreclosing on motel many low-income families call home

  • The Salvation Army recently visited the Star Motel to help out families staying there. PHOTO/SALVATION ARMY
    The Salvation Army recently visited the Star Motel to help out families staying there. PHOTO/SALVATION ARMY

Osceola County has started the process to foreclose on the beleaguered Star Motel and also Lake Cecile Inn & Suites where dozens of residents are struggling to pay off an outstanding electricity bill.

The extended-stay motels, on U.S. Highway 192 near State Road 535, are owned by Mary Nguyen, and have been racking up code violations over the past year for junk and debris, unlicensed vehicles and unsafe conditions.

“The county has to go through the proper legal channels in order to possess a property. The county has done it before, and the county will do it again when property owners can’t comply with the basic rules of the county,” said County Commissioner Peggy Choudhry, who represents the district where the two motels are located.

The county began hauling away massive piles of junk, more than a dozen derelict vehicles and boarded up the Lake Cecile Inn in April.

The company that holds the first mortgage on the Star Motel and Lake Cecile Inn & Suites has also filed a foreclosure suit against Nguyen for defaulting on a $2 million loan.

Kissimmee Utility Authority in June shut off power to the motels when Nguyen fell behind in paying the utility bills.

Dozens of low-income families and people with disabilities who live in the motels have since worked out a deal with KUA to pay off the debt with weekly payments of $1,500 in order to keep the electricity on.

Late last year, KUA and Toho Water Authority, cut both power and water services at the motels for Nguyen’s failure to pay the bills.

“I don’t think we should ever turn off water or light during a pandemic. But I understand that water and electric companies are always going to say they need to be paid,” she said.

Meanwhile, local nonprofits have been assisting the approximately 90 residents of the Star Motel with basic necessities.

“We can’t solve a problem that belongs to the county,” said Alves Gonzalez, Osceola service center director for the Salvation Army. “We are doing what we can with the funds we have.”

Many of the people at the motels were already struggling before the COVID-19 pandemic, which only made things worse, Alves said.

“The main problem there is lack of income,” he said.

However, the county has been able to assist some of the families there get into better, more stable housing, Choudhry said.

“I’ve been advocating not just for this situation but for families living in hotels and people without housing,” said Choudhry.

She has been lobbying for an emergency shelter in Osceola County for several years but has garnered little support from members of the County Commission and other local public officials.

“Between the residents working together to pay the utility, the actions the county is taking and the work of all the nonprofits helping out there, that shows a community,” Choudhry said.